10 Mins With: Dan Fox

STORY BY Patrick Thorne 28th December 2016

Dan Fox, now Managing Director of SkiWeekends, ran away to be a ski guide over 25 years ago, since then he’s managed chalets, hotels and eventually whole programs for Neilson and Thompson in France in Switzerland. In 2002 he created and set up easyJet4ski for EasyJet, this was the first ski business to really embrace the flexible ski options and the breadth of airports on offer. Dan took over the management of Ski Weekends in 2007, when the business was still predominately coach holidays; since then he has transformed it into the UK’s largest short break ski specialist offering more options and flexibility than anyone else.  Dan now lives in the New Forest and is a keen sailor, however in the winter he likes nothing better than exploring new ski destinations, visiting 23 resorts last winter.

Q: After more than 30 years in operation, what changes are you seeing in your guests’ preferences?

DF: The most obvious is the move towards flight.  Our skiers are multi-trippers; some are committed to their favourite resort but many like to explore new places.

The coach guests were mainly middle aged chaps (70% male, average age 42), as our product has grown we now have a substantial couples market.  Overall, people seem happy to spend more money but value really matters, whether it’s a bargain 2*, a chalet or a luxury 4/5 star.  I think where we win is we keep the model simple – you choose how you travel and where you stay.  We have plenty of 4* guests who choose EasyJet over BA or Swiss.

Some changes apply across all ski holidays; skiers want low hassle and don’t want to spend hours waiting at an airport and on a transfer – mini-bus transfers work much better for them.  They aren’t interested in traditional après ski, they will arrange things themselves. They want their lift pass in their hand asap and the ski hire to be quick and easy. They don’t want a welcome meeting or need a rep, just so long as there’s someone on a phone to help if needed. They won’t tolerate dodgy chalet wine, food or maintenance.

They really want to be able to ski the way they want to and expect to be able to do so.

Q: SkiWeekends started off offering mostly coach holidays but this winter you’ve decided to drop coach travel as an option.  What’s the thinking there?

DF: Numbers for coach have steadily declined and the price relative to flight breaks has gone up considerably.   In many ways we have actually caused the situation by offering so many options which really aren’t much more expensive than coach.

I have to say, that I must have used the coach 30 times and I always believed it was a great option. At its peak we were running 5 coaches a weekend, this has dropped continuously to the point that last winter we had to cancel some coaches and many ran at a loss.  There are several factors at play here;  the real cost of coach holidays has been rising and inevitably with less volume the price just goes higher.  The cost of flight packages has dropped; our entry level flight breaks are less than the coach trips.  Its a real shame, but the more choice we offer, the less people choose coach.

We had looked very carefully at this, ironically if you are after a bargain for a week, there are so many deals around it hard to compete.

(RIP the old SkiWeekends coach)

Q: How has the move been received by your customers?

DF: Some our loyal customers are of course disdained, but they have seen the falling numbers, so I don’t think it’s a surprise.  In truth, many of them have switched to flight over the last few years.

Most haven’t reacted at all, we’ve been offering some special deals to previous coach customers.  Of course many are disappointed, they live in Kent and coach was convenient.  Some don’t like flying, so we have been helping them with self-drive and train options.  There are of course a few who really want us to run the coach, the challenge is finding enough of them who are willing to pay a higher price for coach over a flight.

Q: Although you’re called SkiWeekends you offer mid-week and week-long breaks. What are the booking percentages for each type of holiday?

DF: That is easy, half of our customers book weekends, just over 40% take mid-weeks, which for us means a trip of less than a week which doesn’t include Saturday, the rest are a week or longer.

The name is a double edged sword, but the Ski-weekends-mid-weeks-short-breaks-weeks-longer-ski-holidays.com URL felt a little long.  All we have to do is ensure people identify us as the home of short and flexible ski breaks, it is a challenge.

“Numbers for coach have steadily declined and the price relative to flight breaks has gone up considerably,” Dan Fox

Q: SkiWeekends more than doubled the number of ski areas you offer short breaks to from just under 30 to just over 60 this season. Why the big jump in choice?

DF: “Choice” is the word, we know that skiers want more options, the great thing about short breaks is you can try somewhere new, or even a new experience, perhaps a small ski area, perhaps combine it with a city visit, without committing to a whole week off work.  Our mission is ‘to help people ski more’; when, where and for as long they want to.

We are really the only short breaks specialist who is able to do this, we have been dynamically packaging holidays with live flight prices and availability for 10 years, longer than anyone else, this means we have the technology and experience to move quickly and create new options.

I have been running short breaks ski holiday companies for 15 years, my objective has always been to provoke a revolution in the ski market, it deeply frustrates me that the majority of ski companies offer the same product as 30 years ago.  Perhaps that’s a little harsh as a lot has changed, but they still insist on weeks, which just isn’t what everyone wants, it also means you are forced to travel on the busiest day of the week at the airport and on the roads; plus you never get to ski on your travel days, so 2 days lost entirely to travel on every trip.   We all think it quite normal to fly to a city for a weekend, or take 10 days for a summer holiday, yet the message that you can take a short ski break isn’t really out there, I want to change that. Why? ‘Be happy, ski more’. I wholly believe that skiing fills the mind, leaves your troubles behind, it regenerates the soul in us.

Q: You also have a new division specialising in city ski breaks. What’s the idea there?

DF: Combine a cultural visit to a city with a few days on the slopes, one trip, two holidays !

There are many fantastic cities within easy reach of ski resorts, we normally pass them by on the transfer and think one day I’d like to go there. How many of us have actually been into Geneva?

Basically you can spend one or two nights in the city then a few days skiing, here’s a couple of great options.

Sangria and Snow – Fly into Granada, explore this fabulous historic city including the stunning Alhambra Palace. Take a night time tapas tour – you get a free tapas with every drink for under 3€, you will be full after few they are not small portions.  Then its just half an hour up to Sierra Nevada at 3100M its snow sure skiing and you can see the med!  The prices are unbelievable low, a great 3 course lunch for just 10€!  All very much wrapped up in the very happy Spanish fiesta atmosphere.

Norwegian experience – stay in Oslo, explore this “art mad” city, take a cruise around the Fjord.  You can take the 30 minute tram ride up to the Oslo Winter Park ski area, which whilst compact is a great place to practice with stunning views of the fjord. You can try cross country skiing, ski the 40kms downhill or play in the snow park, with the only half pipe open to the public.  Later go après mad in a tipi with the Norwegians late into the evening or go back to the city to enjoy dinner in one of its many fantastic restaurants.  Then head to Trysil, just two and a half hours away it’s a fantastic resort for all abilities, a real cultural indulgence for less than you might think.  This is a great option for couples where one hasn’t skied before, they can have lessons in the Winter Park and ski just half days, enjoying the city too and then head off to a full size ski resort which is not intimidating and experience the real thing.

We are also offering “explore Geneva” days, take the early flight in, leave you bags at the airport, then get a transfer after you’ve had lunch by the lake and wandered around the old city.

In all we are have 7 cities this year, Nice, Barcelona, Granada, Geneva, Innsbruck, Oslo and Toulouse.

Enjoyed this article? click here to get more from us

Latest Posts in Interviews

Next Story

Where Do You Ski?

Booking Enquiry Form

Thank you. Your booking has been sent.

Sorry. An error occurred and your message has not been sent. Please try again or alternatively please contact us by phone at the bottom of this form.

How would you like us to contact you?

  • E-mail
  • Call Me

* indicates a required field

Alternatively, contact our reservations team directly